The Toledo Blade: Great Lakes conference discusses Lake Erie impairment

Great Lakes conference discusses Lake Erie impairment
November 3, 2017
By Tom Henry

One of the Kasich administration’s key players in the fight against algal blooms said Friday the future health of western Lake Erie is tied to the state’s commitment to do more aggressive edge-of-field research in each of the lake’s watersheds, not a federal Clean Water Act impairment designation that would subject farmers to more regulations.

Karl Gebhardt, the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency’s deputy director for water resources, told attendees of the University of Toledo College of Law’s 17th annual Great Lakes Water Conference a major research project underway by Ohio State University’s Kevin King “will be critical to finding out what’s happening in each of the watersheds.”

“We will fix Lake Erie by fixing the watersheds,” Mr. Gebhardt, who also is Ohio Lake Erie Commission executive director and the man Gov. John Kasich has put in charge of Lake Erie programs, said.

Mr. Gebhardt was one of three speakers on the afternoon panel inside McQuade Law Auditorium. It focused on the impairment controversy.

He has come under fire by groups such as Advocates for a Clean Lake Erie for his many years as an agricultural industry lobbyist prior to joining the Kasich administration.

One of his fiercest critics has been ACLE’s founder, Mike Ferner, a former Toledo city councilman and two-time mayoral candidate who claims Mr. Gebhardt’s role with the administration helps explain why it is sticking to the industry’s wishes for more voluntary incentives to reduce algae-forming farm runoff instead of imposing tougher regulations through an impairment designation. Mr. Ferner’s group had about a dozen members demonstrating outside the law school auditorium before the conference began, and he handed out flyers mocking Mr. Gebhardt before his presentation.

But during his talk, Mr. Gebhardt said he wants Ohio to revitalize its Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program, also known as CREP, which has lain dormant for several years. It provides incentives to farmers to create buffer strips that reduce runoff.

More importantly, though, he wants more information about whether better farming practices the state has been promoting are actually yielding the results it wants.

Several people attending the conference questioned if they are now that this summer’s algal bloom appears likely to go down as the third largest since 2002.

Mr. King’s edge-of-field research project attempts to quantify how many nutrients are leaving each of about three dozen test sites around the state. One of the preliminary results that has surprised scientists, announced months ago, is that far more phosphorus is escaping fields through underground farm tiles than surface runoff.

The state also wants to make more grants and low-interest loans available to communities such as Toledo that are reducing combined sewer overflows and modernizing their water-treatment facilities, Mr. Gebhardt said.

“We want to get money out into the communties,” he said.

He also said it is continuing to make plans for rebuilding more wetlands, and is working with Columbus-based Batelle – one of the world’s top research and development corporations – on more innovative technologies that might be used to combat algae in the future.

“We’re not going to get rid of algae in Lake Erie,” Mr. Gebhardt said. “And we want to keep the good algae in Lake Erie, because that’s what makes it the walleye capital of the world.”

He and the other two panel speakers, including Madeline Fleisher, a former U.S. Department of Justice attorney now working for the Chicago-based Environmental Law & Policy Center, agreed there’s no guarantee an impairment designation will bring more federal money – only the hope it might. ELPC has sued the U.S. EPA in federal court over the impairment issue, with Mr. Ferner’s group a partner in that litigation.

Mr. Gebhardt, in fact, said he believes the U.S. EPA has “been generous” with money it has provided to Ohio fighting algal blooms.

“I don’t think it’s a matter of not having enough money,” he said. “Sure, you’d always like to have more. It’s a matter of what we’re doing with it [and] if programs are working.”

Michigan declared its much smaller portion of western Lake Erie impaired a year ago this month, a move that proponents hoped would inspire Governor Kasich to do likewise in Ohio.

Kevin Goodwin, a Michigan Department of Environmental Quality senior aquatic biologist who spoke on the panel, said that while there’s been no influx of federal dollars the impairment designation there raised the profile of the problem within state government and likely helped generate more funding at the state level.

“The mere impairment listing within the state already elevates it [within the state] for more funding,” Mr. Goodwin said. “It starts internal wheels moving.”

Ms. Fleisher said the lawsuit filed against the U.S. EPA pertains to the agency’s obligations under the federal Clean Water Act’s “rule of law.”

“Any administration, regardless of its politics, is supposed to follow the rule of law,” she said.



New York Times: Advocacy Groups Say EPA Not Doing Enough to Protect Lake Erie

By The Associated Press

TOLEDO, Ohio — Environmental advocates who sued the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency because they believe not enough is being done to address the toxic algae problem in Lake Erie said they think the agency’s response to the suit only bolsters their argument.

The groups want the EPA to declare that the western end of the lake is impaired by the algae that’s a threat to drinking water and fish. Such a designation could lead to stricter pollution controls.

The federal agency last spring sided with Ohio’s environmental regulators who recommended not listing the lake’s open waters as impaired under the federal Clean Water Act.

Algae blooms have turned the lake unsightly shades of green most summers over the past decade. An outbreak in 2014 contaminated the tap water for two days for more than 400,000 people around Toledo.

While steps have been taken to reduce the farm fertilizer runoff and municipal sewage overflows that feed the algae, environmental groups and some political leaders have become frustrated by the pace and depth of those efforts and have called for the impairment listing.

The EPA in court documents filed last week said Ohio’s environmental regulators didn’t look at whether the lake’s open waters were meeting the state’s water quality standards.

“They’re owning up to the fact that Ohio didn’t do this,” said Madeline Fleisher, an attorney for the Chicago-based Environmental Law and Policy Center.

She said the EPA’s acceptance of Ohio’s decision not to seek the impairment designation shows that the federal agency isn’t willing to address the algae problem in the shallowest of the Great Lakes.

“We expect better from the agencies that are supposed to be leading the way on protecting people and the environment,” Fleisher said.


Crain’s Chicago Business: House Panel Rejects Trump’s Great Lakes Cuts

House Panel Rejects Trump’s Great Lakes Cuts

By Greg Hinz

With a big assist from a bipartisan pair of lawmakers from Ohio, it looks like plans by the Trump administration to slash funding for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative are on the way to being derailed.

As previously reported, Trump proposed cutting the program—which pays for everything from sewage treatment plants in Milwaukee and water-permeable concrete in Uptown to electronic barriers to keep Asian carp out of Lake Michigan—a whopping 97 percent. Trump aides said that and other kinds of spending have to go to make room for tax cuts to stimulate the economy.

​ But yesterday, GOP Rep. David Joyce and Democratic colleague Marie Kaptur, both from the Toledo area, convinced the House Appropriations Committee’s Subcommittee on Interior, Environment and Related Agencies to include the normal $300 million in the pending fiscal 2018 federal budget.

The action is only “a first step,” said Howard Learner, head of the Environmental Law & Policy Center here. But the full appropriations committee likely will go along with the subcommittee, and traditionally so does the full House. It’s worth noting that House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin comes from a lakefront district.



PRESS RELEASE: ELPC Pushing Back Against Trump Administration’s Executive Order “Review” of Marine Sanctuary Expansions in Lake Huron & Elsewhere


June 30, 2017

Environmental Law & Policy Center Pushing Back Against Trump Administration’s Executive Order “Review” of Marine Sanctuary Expansions in Lake Huron and Elsewhere 

 “Efforts to Scale Back Only Fresh Water Marine Sanctuary is Misguided”



ELPC Executive Director Howard Learner said in response to the Trump Administration’s America-First Offshore Energy Strategy Executive Order that directs the U.S. Commerce Department to “review” the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary and other designations and expansions of National Marine Sanctuaries:

“The Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary in Lake Huron had broad Michigan public stakeholder and bipartisan support when it was expanded in 2014,” said Howard Learner, Executive Director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center. “Scaling back the Thunder Bay Sanctuary is misguided and counterproductive.

“Shrinking the protected area of the Thunder Bay Sanctuary is yet another Trump Administration attack in its War on the Great Lakes and should be stopped in its tracks.

“ELPC will work with bipartisan partners across the region to oppose the White House’s War on the Great Lakes. The Great Lakes is a national treasure that provides fresh drinking water to 42 million people and represents 21% of the world’s fresh water supply.“




Toledo Blade: US EPA Won’t Push Ohio to Declare Lake Erie Impaired




Feds Won’t Push State to Declare Lake Erie Impaired
By Tom Henry

Documents released today show the federal government won’t compel the state of Ohio to declare Ohio’s portion of western Lake Erie as impaired, a move that environmentalists and Lucas County commissioners believe will hurt the lake’s future water quality.

And, in a separate-but-related matter, The Blade has learned through sources tracking Great Lakes issues that the Trump administration — when it releases its 2018 fiscal year budget plan at 9 p.m. eastern time tonight — will once again call for the elimination of the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, which since 2009 has provided roughly $300 million a year in new money for water quality improvement efforts from Duluth to Montreal. Western Lake Erie – the warmest, shallowest, and most biologically active area for region’s $7 billion fishery – stands to be hit hard by that decision.

Documents released today show the federal government won’t compel the state of Ohio to declare Ohio’s portion of western Lake Erie as impaired, a move that environmentalists and Lucas County commissioners believe will hurt the lake’s future water quality.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency quietly issued a long-awaited decision regarding Lake Erie’s proposed impairment designation for Ohio on Friday, just days after environmentalists filed a second federal lawsuit demanding a decision one way or the other. By law, the agency was supposed to issue a ruling back in November.

The document and cover letter were made public today, drawing a swift response from a cross-section of environmental groups as well as Lucas County commissioners.

The letter was addressed to Ohio EPA Director Craig Butler and signed by a former Ohio EPA director, Chris Korleski, who in recent years has been head of the U.S. EPA’s Great Lakes National Program Office in Chicago. In January, Mr. Korleski was moved into the position of U.S. EPA Region 5 water director.

“In reaching its decision, [the U.S.] EPA has deferred to the State’s judgment not to assess the open waters of the Western Basin of Lake Erie for the 2016 list,” Mr. Korleski wrote, referring to the state of Ohio’s list of impaired waters from last fall which fails to include western Lake Erie. He said the federal agency recognizes Ohio’s “ongoing efforts to control nutrient pollution.” Those efforts, according to critics, rely too heavily on voluntary incentives that are embraced in concept by the agricultural industry but not in practice by enough farmers.

The state of Michigan went the opposite direction in 2016, declaring its much smaller portion of western Lake Erie as impaired.

An impairment designation legally would set up the region for a more specific investigation into the sources of algae-growing phosphorus and nitrogen releases.

According to a statement from the Lucas County Board of Commissioners, the U.S. EPA “can’t have it both ways” by first agreeing with Michigan that the open waters of western Lake Erie are impaired by nutrients – then yielding to the state of Ohio’s opposition.

The trio of Democrats who comprise that county board described the situation as “foot-dragging by the Trump and Kasich administrations” that puts Toledo and Lucas County “in harm’s way.”

The Kasich administration has steadfastly said it can gain as many or more results with less regulation by sticking to voluntary incentives.

The U.S. EPA decision “preserves a status quo of insufficient action and lack of urgency in addressing one of the most vexing problems facing Lake Erie and the many people, communities, and businesses which rely on it for their drinking water, jobs, and way of life,” Frank Szollosi, a former Toledo city councilman now with the National Wildlife Federation, said in a joint statement issued by his group, the Environment Law & Policy Center, Michigan United Conservation Clubs, the Ohio Environmental Council, Alliance for the Great Lakes, and the Lake Erie Foundation.

Environmentalists reacted with equal outrage to the prospects of gearing up for another showdown with the Trump administration over the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative that has generated more than $2 billion for previously unfunded restoration work over the past eight years.

Howard Learner, executive director of the Chicago-based Environmental Law & Policy Center, said he has learned about the administration’s latest proposal to end funding for the GLRI in fiscal year 2018, calling it “foolish and misguided.”

“What could be more basic than restoring the Great Lakes and protecting safe, clean drinking water?” Mr. Learner asked, referring to how the lakes are the raw source of drinking water for 30 million Americans and 10 million Canadians.


President Trump, end your shortsighted attack on the Great Lakes

President Trump, end your shortsighted attack on the Great Lakes

by Howard A. Learner and Mary Gade

CHICAGO, Illinois — President Donald Trump won the 2016 election in Ohio and several Great Lakes states, but he and his U.S. EPA administrator, Scott Pruitt, are assaulting Great Lakes protection and restoration. They’re seeking to slash funding for the sensible Great Lakes Restoration Initiative from $300 million annually to zero. They’re rumored to be considering closing the U.S. EPA’s Region 5 office in Chicago, which includes the Great Lakes National Program Office, and transferring its staff to Kansas. They’re rolling back Clean Water Act standards that protect safe, clean drinking water.

What are they thinking?  This tomfoolery is a head-scratcher, criticized by both Republican and Democratic leaders.

EPA Administrator Pruitt says he wants to get “back to basics.”  What could be more basic than protecting the Great Lakes?

The Great Lakes are a global gem. They contain the planet’s largest fresh water supply (21 percent), provide drinking water for 40 million people, provide a rich aquatic habitat and ecosystem, support a $7 billion annual fishing industry, and offer lakefront and recreational opportunities for millions of people.



Politico: ELPC Hires Janet McCabe, Obama-era Acting EPA Air Chief



Janet McCabe, the Obama-era acting EPA air chief who helped mastermind the Clean Power Plan and oversaw various other key regulations, will join the Chicago-based Environmental Law & Policy Center as a senior law fellow, she confirmed to ME. In an email to the ELPC staff yesterday, executive director Howard Learner notes McCabe will work part-time from her native Indianapolis starting May 15. Learner added: “These are extraordinary times, and we are adding top-rate talent to keep building ELPC’s ‘top of our game’ team to play both winning offense and defense. The best defense is a good offense. I am excited to be working together with Janet McCabe to play to win in the changed political circumstances.”


Crain’s Detroit Business: ELPC’s Learner Says Nuclear Power Expansion in Michigan is “economically uncompetitive”

Nuclear Power Expansion for DTE in Michigan is Long-range Strategy Option

By Jay Greene 
Staff Blog: Health care

Despite the Trump administration’s opposition to using the federal regulatory process to improve the quality of breathable air by mandating a reduction in carbon emissions, top executives of Consumers Energy Co. and DTE Energy Co. say they plan to continue to invest in renewable energy and replace 25 aging, inefficient and dirty coal-fired power plants over the next decade.

But Consumers and DTE have slightly different strategies when it comes to how they will replace the shuttered plants going forward. Both tell me they will invest millions in natural gas, renewables like wind and solar and energy efficiency programs over the next decade.

The difference appears to be that DTE wants to keep open the option of expanding nuclear energy generation — DTE’s Fermi 2 supplies 18 percent of its current electricity production — while Consumers has no future plans for nuclear after Entergy closes its Palisades nuclear power plant in Covert Township in the fall of 2018, pending Michigan Public Service Commission approval.

“We are not currently planning to build or purchase energy from nuclear plants. Our long-term supply strategy is to continue to develop low-emissions energy options with an emphasis on renewable energy, natural gas, and energy efficiency,” Brian Wheeler, a spokesman with Consumers, said in a statement to Crain’s.

On the other hand, Gerry Anderson, DTE’s chairman, president and CEO, told me recently that the state’s largest utility will hold onto its “cards” for the nuclear energy option. And why not? DTE spent $100 million in the six-year regulatory process to garner the Fermi 3 nuclear plant license.
Gerry Anderson
“We applied for Fermi 3 back in 2008 when oil was $120 per barrel, then the economic crunch hit and technology made it possible to increase shale gas (production) at lower costs,” said Anderson, adding that costs for such renewable energy sources as wind and solar also dropped substantially.

It is clear to energy and environmental experts that DTE had once planned to build and open a nuclear generating plant by as early as 2023.

Now, says Anderson, “We are looking at replacing our coal plants with natural gas and maybe in the mid-2020s” will take another look at nuclear again.

So after six long years, DTE was finally awarded a license in late 2015 from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to build Fermi 3. If built, it would be on the same site as the currently operating 1,170-megawatt Fermi 2 on the shores of Lake Erie near Monroe, about 30 miles south of Detroit.

Fermi 2 is also next to closed-down Fermi 1, an experimental breeder reactor that partially (1 percent) melted down in 1966. This event was 13 years before the even worse near-catastrophe meltdown at Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania.

Back in 2008, the estimated price for the 1,560-megawatt Fermi 3 plant was $9.6 billion, a figure that environmental lawyer Howard Learner expects will top more than $10 billion now.

Learner, like many environmentalists in Michigan, is asking the question: Why is DTE still considering nuclear?

“DTE has already sunk $100 million into this new nuclear plant that is economically uncompetitive in the Midwest and is highly unlikely to ever be built,” Learner, executive director of Chicago-based Environmental Law & Policy Center, said in an interview with Crain’s.

“DTE’s board of directors would be slammed by Wall Street if the utility moved forward with the Fermi 3 nuclear plant in light of the lessons learned from the ongoing nuclear plant financial debacle in two other states (Georgia and South Carolina),” Learner said.


ELPC Statement on Executive Order to Eliminate Clean Power Plan

Contact: Judith Nemes
March 28, 2017
(312) 795-3706
(773) 892-7494


Trump Administration’s Clean Power Plan Rollback “Will Move America Backwards and Reduce U.S. Global Competitiveness”
“Clean energy development is creating thousands of new jobs”


Howard Learner, Executive Director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center, said in response to the White House announcement that it will reverse the Clean Power Plan that would help clean up the energy sector by reducing greenhouse gas emissions:

“The Midwest’s transition to clean, renewable energy is rapidly accelerating and is creating thousands of new jobs and reducing pollution,” said Howard Learner, Executive Director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center. “President Trump’s actions today would move America backwards and reduce U.S. global competitiveness in the growing clean energy business sector.

“President Trump’s policies will subsidize economically uncompetitive polluting power plants, will punish taxpayers, and hamper job creation at rapidly growing clean energy businesses. America should invest in creating more clean energy jobs for the future instead of President Trump’s heavy subsidies for the coal sector of the past.

“Economic progress in the clean energy sector is being driven by smart state policies, technological innovation and consumer preferences. President Trump’s policies are colliding with both technology advances and the public’s demand for clean renewable energy like solar energy and wind power.  The Clean Power Plan aligns federal policy to help drive technology innovations and pollution reductions through energy efficiency and renewable energy development.






James Linehan “A Life Lived Outdoors: A Memorial In Photographs”

Please join us for a photography exhibit opening reception

Thursday, April 6, 2017 from 5:30 – 7:30 p.m. at ELPC

James Linehan

“A Life Lived Outdoors: A Memorial In Photographs”


Opening remarks will be provided by:
David Travis, Gallery Curator
Howard Learner, Executive Director,
Environmental Law & Policy Center
Please RSVP to Libby Prakel at
lprakel at elpc.org
or (312) 795-3709

ELPC’s Founding Vision is Becoming Today’s Sustainability Reality

Support ELPC’s Next 20 Years of Successful Advocacy

Donate Now